Sunday, November 25, 2012

2012.11.24 — Jung by Anthony Stevens: Read

Anthony Stevens.
Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1994. ISBN 0192876864. [Note: the link is to 2001 edition, not shown here.]

Begun: 2012.10.29.
Finished: 2012.11.21.


Jung is a tightly written, comprehensive yet short overview of Jung's ideas and biography. Stevens managed to connect how Jung's biography influenced the
development of his ideas and how influential those ideas have been. Stevens' survey of Jung's relationship with Freud is interesting and balanced, as is his refutation of the anti-semitism charges that have floated around Jung since before the second world war.

Now after all that praise, I would suggest that Jung is a book without a really strong audience. The book is detailed enough and I suspect generally as accurate as a 3rd party biography can be. But that is its biggest problem. I suspect that many people completely unfamiliar with Jung's writings are likely to come away from this book with an exaggerated understanding of the power and range of Jung's ideas and influence and decide to not read anything else. They will not understand that the reason people read Jung is to begin the journey of self-understanding, what Jung called individuation.

On the other hand, those who are significantly familiar with Jung will not find too much new here. It remains simply a summary and review, albeit a very good one. It does have some nice quotable bits for those interested in quips or sound bites.

But what moved this book from just a solid four to five stars was something Stevens observed I had until reading it here thought that I had uniquely noticed. Thank god I am not the only one to have spotted the remarkable similarity between Noam Chomsky's linguistic theories and Jung's conceptualization of the collective unconscious and archetypes (p37). Now, it is possible that other Jungian commentators I have previously read made this connection too, but at a time in my life before I was familiar with Chomsky's linguistic ideas. But I do not remember even one such reference, and definitely haven't seen one since then. Nor have I seen anyone from the Chomsky side making the connection. (For those curious about this, a good overview of Chomsky's linguistics is Justin Leiber's Noam Chomsky: A Philosophic Overview. I have blogged my review of it here.) And in it was my first publication of my perception of the strong equivalent between Jung's collective unconscious and Chomsky's Deep Structure and Universal Grammar. (No, the writers of the Wikipedia do not make a similar claim.)

Furthermore, Chomsky completely eviscerates behaviouralist models as having been completely ineffectual at explaining anything. Jung found the idea that behaviouralism could explain the human experience as untenable as well. Here's Stevens' summary:
… An archetype, [Jung] said, is not 'an inherited idea' but rather 'an inherited mode of functioning, corresponding to the inborn way in which the chick emerges from the egg, the bird builds its nest, a certain kind of wasp stings the motor ganglion of the caterpillar, and eels find their way to the Bermudas. In other words, it is a "pattern of behaviour". This aspect of the archetype,' concludes Jung, 'the purely biological one, is the proper concern of scientific psychology' (CW XVIII, par. 1228). In a sense, ethology and Jungian psychology can be viewed as two sides of the same coin: it is as if ethologists have been engaged in an extraverted exploration of the archetype and Jungians in an introverted examination of the [biologically postulated] IRM [Innate Releasing Mechanism].

The currency of archetypal theory

Many other disciplines have produced concepts similar to the archetypal hypothesis, but usually without reference to Jung. For example, the primary concern of Claude Levi-Strauss and the French school of
structural anthropology is with the unconscious infrastructures which they hold responsible for all human customs and institutions; specialists in linguistics maintain that although grammars differ from one another, their basic forms—which Noam Chomsky calls their deep structures—are universal (i.e. at the deepest neuropsychic level, there exists a universal [or 'archetypal'] grammar on which all individual grammars are based), an entirely new discipline, sociobiology, has grown up on the theory that the patterns of behaviour typical of all social species, the human species included, are dependent on genetically transmitted response strategies designed to maximize the fitness of the organism to survive in the environment in which it evolved; sociobiology also holds that the psycho-social development in individual members of a species is dependent on what are termed epigenetic rules [epi = upon, genesis = development; i.e. rules upon which development proceeds); more recently still, ethologically oriented psychiatrists have begun to study what they call psychobiological response patterns and deeply homologous neural structures which they hold responsible for the achievement of healthy or unhealthy patterns of adjustment in individual patients in response to variations in their social environment. All these concepts are compatible with the archetypal hypothesis which lung had proposed decades earlier to virtually universal indifference.

This raises an important question. If lung's theory of archetypes is so fundamental that it keeps being rediscovered by the practitioners of many other disciplines, why did it not receive the enthusiastic welcome it deserved when Jung proposed it? The explanation is, I think, twofold: namely, the time at which Jung stated the theory, and the way in which he published it.

In the first place, throughout Jung's mature lifetime, researchers working in university departments of psychology were in the grip of behaviourism, which discounted innate or genetic factors, preferring to view the individual as a tabula rasa whose development was almost entirely dependent on environmental factors. lung's contrary view that the infant comes into the world with an intact blueprint for life which it then proceeds to implement through interaction with the environment, was so at variance with the prevailing Zeitgeist as to guarantee it a hostile reception.

Secondly, Jung did not state his theory in a clear, testable form, nor did he back it up with sufficiently persuasive evidence. His book Transformations and Symbols of the Libido in which he first put forward his idea of a collective unconscious giving rise to 'primordial images' (as he originally called archetypes) was so densely written and so packed with mythological exegesis as to make it virtually impenetrable to any but the most determined reader. Moreover, in arguing that 'primordial images' were derived from the past history of mankind,
Jung exposed himself to the accusation that he, like Freud, subscribed to the discredited theory of the inheritance of acquired characteristics, originally proposed by Jean-Baptiste Lamarck (1744-1829), i.e. that ideas or images occurring in members of one generation could be passed on genetically to the next and subsequent generations.

In fact, the collective unconscious is a respectable scientific hypothesis and one does not have to adopt a Lamarckian view of biology to entertain it. Indeed, as we have seen, it is entirely compatible with the theoretical formulations of contemporary ethologists, sociobiologists, and psychiatrists. Precisely in order to acquit himself of the charge of Lamarckism Jung eventually made a clear distinction between what he termed the archetype-as-such (similar to Kant's das Ding-an-sich} and the archetypal images, ideas, and behaviours that the archetype-as-such gives rise to. It is the predisposition to have certain experiences that is archetypal and inherited, not the experience itself. The French molecular biologist and Nobel Laureate Jacques Monod reached an identical conclusion: 'Everything comes from experience, yet not from actual experience, reiterated by each individual with each generation, but instead from experience accumulated by the entire ancestry of the species in the course of its evolution.'

Thus, the Jungian archetype is no more scientifically disreputable than the ethological IRM. Just as the behavioural repertoire of each species is encoded in its central nervous system as innate releasing mechanisms which are activated in the course of development by appropriate sign stimuli, so Jung conceived the programme for human life to be encoded in the collective unconscious as a series of archetypal determinants which are actualized in response to inner and outer events in the course of the life cycle. There is nothing Lamarckian or unbiological in this conception (37-9).
On the day I began this book, it managed to link itself to a small fushigi involving my friend BH. For the curious you can read the fushigi at 2012.09.29 —….